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Sat, 04 Feb 2023
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit

Magic Wand

40-year follow-up on marshmallow test points to biological basis for delayed gratification

© Jérôme Magron
Weill Cornell - led study looks at delayed gratification in adults first tested with marshmallows and cookies as pre-schoolers.

A landmark study in the late 1960s and early 1970s used marshmallows and cookies to assess the ability of preschool children to delay gratification. If they held off on the temptation to eat a treat, they were rewarded with more treats later. Some of the children resisted, others didn't.

A newly published follow-up revisits some of the same children, now adults, revealing that these differences remain: Those better at delaying gratification as children remained so as adults; likewise, those who wanted their cookie right away as children were more likely to seek instant gratification as adults. Furthermore, brain imaging showed key differences between the two groups in two areas: the prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum. The findings are published in the Aug. 29 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This is the first time we have located the specific brain areas related to delayed gratification. This could have major implications in the treatment of obesity and addictions," says lead author Dr. B.J. Casey, director of the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell Medical College and the Sackler Professor of Developmental Psychobiology.


How The Brain Controls Impulsive Behaviour

© iStockphoto
A new research has contradicted a 40-year-old theory of how the brain controls impulsive behavior.

Impulse control is an important aspect of the brain's executive functions - the procedures that it uses to control its own activity. Problems with impulse control are involved in ADHD and a number of other psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia.

"Our study was focused on the control of eye movements, but we think it is widely applicable," said Vanderbilt Ingram Professor of Neuroscience Jeffrey Schall, co-author of the new study.

There are two sets of neurons that control how we process and react to what we see, hear, smell, taste or touch. The first set, sensory neurons, respond to different types of stimuli in the environment. They are connected to movement neurons that trigger an action when the information they receive from the sensory neurons reaches a certain threshold.


Child Marriage Is 'A Major Psychological Trauma,' New Study Says

Child Marriage
© Thinkstock
For a brief media-saturated minute, child marriage took center stage earlier this summer when then 16-year-old Courtney Stodden and 51-year-old Lost actor Doug Hutchison announced they had wed. Though many expressed shock, Stodden is not alone; according to a 2002 report from the Centers for Disease Control, some 6 percent of American women have entered into their first marriage by age 18. Now, researchers are taking a hard look at such arrangements, conducting one of the first studies to consider their possible mental health effects.

Writing in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that girls under 18 who get married are more likely to experience mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders. They are also more likely to become dependent on alcohol, drugs and nicotine.

Dr. Yann Le Strat, the study's lead author, said he was surprised by what he called the "high burden" of such marriages.

"With a 41 percent increased risk of mental disorder, child marriage should be considered a major psychological trauma," he told The Huffington Post.


9/11: Ten Years Later, Americans Still Stupid and Vulnerable

© Unknown
Computer rendering of One World Trade Center
They say everything changed on 9/11. No one can dispute that. But we didn't learn anything.

Like other events that forced Americans to reassess their national priorities (the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, Sputnik) the attacks on New York and Washington were a traumatic, teachable moment.

The collective attention of the nation was finally focused upon problems that had gone neglected for many years. 9/11 was a chance to get smart - but we blew it.

First and foremost the attacks gave the United States a rare opportunity to reset its international reputation. Even countries known for anti-Americanism offered their support. "We are all Americans," ran the headline of the French newspaper Le Monde.

Comment: It is easier to build another monument than to face the truth.


Bilingual Babies' Vocabulary Linked to Early Brain Differentiation

© University of Texas at San Antonio
This is one of the babies in the experiment wearing an EEG cap that measures brain activity.
Babies and children are whizzes at learning a second language, but that ability begins to fade as early as their first birthdays.

Researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences are investigating the brain mechanisms that contribute to infants' prowess at learning languages, with the hope that the findings could boost bilingualism in adults, too.

In a new study, the researchers report that the brains of babies raised in bilingual households show a longer period of being flexible to different languages, especially if they hear a lot of language at home. The researchers also show that the relative amount of each language - English and Spanish - babies were exposed to affected their vocabulary as toddlers.

The study, published online Aug. 17 in Journal of Phonetics, is the first to measure brain activity throughout infancy and relate it to language exposure and speaking ability.

"The bilingual brain is fascinating because it reflects humans' abilities for flexible thinking - bilingual babies learn that objects and events in the world have two names, and flexibly switch between these labels, giving the brain lots of good exercise," said Patricia Kuhl, co-author of the study and co-director of the UW's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.


Another Reason to Love Marriage: Longevity

A new study in the American Journal Of Epidemiology shows that married people can live up to 17 years longer than those without partners. A combination of emotional health, physical nurturing and companionship play into these results, says Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil.

© Unknown
A new study in the American Journal Of Epidemiology shows that married people can live up to 17 years longer than those without partners.

So if you feel like fixing the car one more time or taking out another load of laundry might kill you - think again. Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph.D, comments on a study revealing that getting married could extend your life for up to 17 years: "In this case, a longer lifespan likely has to do with human touch and interaction. For example, babies can thrive without sight, without smell, even without hearing. But they cannot thrive without being touched."

The study shows that single men have a 32 percent higher chance of death across their lifetimes than their married counter parts. This means that they could die eight to 17 years prior to the average married man. Statistics for women are better: they face a life expectancy shortened by about seven to 15 years on average.


People Are Biased Against Creative Ideas, Studies Find

© callcentre helper
The next time your great idea at work elicits silence or eye rolls, you might just pity those co-workers. Fresh research indicates they don't even know what a creative idea looks like and that creativity, hailed as a positive change agent, actually makes people squirm.

"How is it that people say they want creativity but in reality often reject it?" said Jack Goncalo, ILR School assistant professor of organizational behavior and co-author of research to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. The paper reports on two 2010 experiments at the University of Pennsylvania involving more than 200 people.

The studies' findings include:
  • Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
  • People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practical -- tried and true.
  • Objective evidence shoring up the validity of a creative proposal does not motivate people to accept it.
  • Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.
For example, subjects had a negative reaction to a running shoe equipped with nanotechnology that adjusted fabric thickness to cool the foot and reduce blisters.

Magic Wand

Clinical study shows young brains lack the wisdom of their elders

© Unknown
This press release is available in French.

The brains of older people are not slower but rather wiser than young brains, which allows older adults to achieve an equivalent level of performance, according research undertaken at the University Geriatrics Institute of Montreal by Dr. Oury Monchi and Dr. Ruben Martins of the Univeristy of Montreal.

"The older brain has experience and knows that nothing is gained by jumping the gun. It was already known that aging is not necessarily associated with a significant loss in cognitive function. When it comes to certain tasks, the brains of older adults can achieve very close to the same performance as those of younger ones," explained Dr. Monchi. "We now have neurobiological evidence showing that with age comes wisdom and that as the brain gets older, it learns to better allocate its resources. Overall, our study shows that Aesop's fable about the tortoise and the hare was on the money: being able to run fast does not always win the race - you have to know how to best use your abilities. This adage is a defining characteristic of aging."

The original goal of the study was to explore the brain regions and pathways that are involved in the planning and execution of language pairing tasks. In particular, the researchers were interested in knowing what happened when the rules of the task changed part way through the exercise. For this test, participants were asked to pair words according to different lexical rules, including semantic category (animal, object, etc.), rhyme, or the beginning of the word (attack). The matching rules changed multiple times throughout the task without the participants knowing. For example, if the person figured out that the words fell under the same semantic category, the rule was changed so that they were required to pair the words according to rhyme instead.


How Do I Remember That I Know You Know That I Know?

© Unknown
"I'll meet you at the place near the thing where we went that time," says the character Aaron in the 1987 movie Broadcast News. He and the woman he's talking to have a lot of common ground, the shared territory that makes conversations work. Common ground is why, after you've mentioned Great-Aunt Mildred's 80th birthday party once in a conversation, you can just refer to it as "the party." In a new study to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the authors pinpoint the type of memory required to make common ground work and confirm that people with a particular type of amnesia have trouble making common ground in conversation.

People with declarative memory impairment (amnesia) have good memories of what happened before their amnesia started, but they can't form new declarative memories. That's the kind of memory for facts and events, like what they did yesterday or the name of a person they just met. They can still form non-declarative memories, like learning how to ride a bike or other skills, says Rachael Rubin of the University of Illinois. For this study, she worked with five people with declarative memory amnesia and five healthy people. Rubin cowrote the new paper with Sarah Brown-Schmidt and Neal Cohen of the University of Illinois and Melissa Duff and Daniel Tranel of the University of Iowa.


We need to talk... the four words that could KILL your marriage


It's not good to talk: Experts say it can be more beneficial to communicate in other ways.
When Susie Clements rang her boyfriend and told him: 'Darling, we need to talk', she hoped it would be a turning point in their relationship.

Both were saddled with hectic work schedules, so Susie wanted to find ways for them to spend more time together. But instead of opening up the lines of communication, Susie says her suggestion to boyfriend Simon had the opposite effect.
'As a couple, the time we'd spent together over the previous months had been magical,' says Susie, 52, a striking blonde divorcee from Lincoln.

'But we were both busy people - and I wanted to work out a way where we could have more of those good times.'